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Six Colors’ ‘Apple in 2023’ Report Card

For the past nine years, Six Colors’ Jason Snell has put together an ‘Apple report card’ – a survey to assess the current state of Apple “as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple”.

The 2023 edition of the Six Colors Apple Report Card has just been published, and you can find an excellent summary of all the submitted comments along with charts featuring average scores for different categories here.

I’m happy that Jason invited me again to share some thoughts and comments on what Apple did in 2023. As you’ll see from my comments, I was very disappointed with the iPad – there was literally no new hardware last year and only minor changes in software – and more intrigued by what’s happening in macOS land. This, I think, will be a recurring theme on MacStories in 2024: as I move my workflow to the Vision Pro with the Mac as an accessory to it, I expect I’ll be using macOS a lot more as a result. In 2023, I was also very impressed with iPhone hardware, somewhat annoyed with the lack of changes to the AirPods line, and surprised by the updates in tvOS 17.

I’ve prepared the full text of my answers to the Six Colors report card, which you can find below.

Mac

Vote: 4/5

I don’t consider myself primarily a Mac user, but it’s part of my job to always have opinions on Apple-related things, so here we go.

I think Apple’s Mac lineup is solid, if only a tad boring. Apple Silicon Macs are great and I love my M2 MacBook Air (arguably, the best laptop Apple’s ever made), but now that we’ve had M-series Macs for over three years, the novelty of Apple Silicon has somewhat worn off. While in Windows land companies are making OLED laptops, laptops with touch, laptops with two screens, and other weird and fun things, Apple’s still making basic, regular laptops without touch input. I understand Apple not wanting to go full-weird like ASUS or Lenovo often do, but making a computer without touch input in 2023 feels…just wrong to me at this point.

At the same time, I found Apple’s newfound commitment to gaming on the Mac fascinating and an area worth keeping an eye on in the future. Are a handful of AAA games coming to the Mac a sign of much bigger ambitions? Can Apple’s work on GPUs compete in the long term with Nvidia and AMD? Is there a future in which Apple may bring back eGPU support for Macs, perhaps thanks to the higher bandwidth afforded by Thunderbolt 5? I hope to get answers to some of these questions in 2024.

iPhone

Vote: 5/5

The iPhone 15 Pro line, and specifically the iPhone 15 Pro Max, is a slam dunk update. The improved optical zoom at 5X is something I use every day to take funny pictures of my dogs, usually when they’re running at the park. The weight reduction of the iPhone 15 Pro Max was nice, but the real stars of the show for me were the addition of USB-C in lieu of Lightning and the Action button.

The latter has allowed me to take my usage of Shortcuts to the next level by having a system-wide activation method that no longer requires me to run shortcuts from widgets or the share sheet. When I want to quickly create a new task or frame some of my screenshots now, I just have to long-press a button. I even created a system to assign more than one shortcut to the Action button, and I’m working on ways to turn the Action button into a “contextual” physical shortcut that changes its behavior depending on the app that I’m using. Guess what? Buttons are great.

The adoption of USB-C is just icing on the cake for these new iPhones. Regardless of whether or not Apple was going to switch to USB-C anyway without the EU forcing their hand, the net benefit for me has been the fact that the iPhone is now part of my existing ecosystem of USB-C accessories that all use the same connector. From battery packs to USB-C glasses and other peripherals, USB-C has meant greater flexibility in terms of what I can connect to my iPhone on a daily basis, and I couldn’t be happier with Apple’s “decision”.

iPad

Vote: 1/5

What is there even to say about the iPad in 2023? With the exception of a couple changes to iPadOS, there was nothing to talk about. And I mean, literally: for the first time since its launch in 2010, Apple didn’t release a single new iPad last year.

I’m not giving this category a score of 0/5 simply because I love my iPad too much, and Apple did manage to sneak in a couple of updates to Stage Manager that make the feature tolerable – and actually pretty good – to use compared to iPadOS 16’s disaster. I also understand that Apple was busy in 2023 preparing the launch of the Vision Pro and visionOS – a platform that is based on iPad, after all – so that may somewhat excuse the lack of meaningful updates in iPad land. But Apple needs to get serious about the iPad again in 2024 with both hardware and software, and I hope they will deliver on this front.

Apple Watch

Vote: 4/5

I’m perfectly content with my first-generation Apple Watch Ultra, so I didn’t feel compelled to upgrade to a new Apple Watch in 2023. Embracing widgets and rethinking watchOS’ structure and app UIs was the right call, but I still feel like Apple is missing a big opportunity by not allowing users to design their own custom watch faces that go beyond the limitations of the system’s built-in ones.

Wearables

Vote: 2/5

We saw a minor update to AirPods Pro with USB-C and low-latency audio for Vision Pro in 2023, but another year went by without an update to my favorite over-ear wireless headphones, the AirPods Max. Those have felt like a forgotten product for quite some time now; I hope 2024 will bring a revitalization of that lineup, alongside redesigned regular AirPods.

Apple TV

Vote: 4/5

I’m a fan of the updates in tvOS 17, and I love my Apple TV because, at the end of the day, it’s the streaming box with the best UI compared to other devices I tested last year. My only criticism is that it’s too expensive compared to the competition; I’d like to see Apple diversify this lineup with more affordable entry options for people who just want to have a nice, reliable streaming box hooked up to their TVs.

Services

Vote: 3/5

On the one hand, Apple’s services have worked reliably for me last year: Apple Music continues to lead in terms of design and lyrics, and has improved its recommendation features with a new personalized discovery station; Apple Originals were some of my most watched shows in 2023. On the other hand…nothing much has changed in 2023? I still would like to see more features to make iCloud Drive a viable alternative to Dropbox, an iCloud-based version of Time Machine for all Apple devices, and a higher tier of Apple Arcade to give me access to AAA games that Apple seems so interested in bringing to their platforms lately. If Apple wants me to give them money every month, they should try new things more often.

HomeKit

Vote: 3/5

Matter, the long-anticipated “savior” of the smart home, came and…very little changed. Adoption among third-party manufacturers has been slow and scattershot and, if anything, I’ve had more headaches upgrading older devices in my home to Matter than I’ve seen practical benefits from this new technology. At the same time, just like with Apple TV, I believe HomeKit provides a superior interface and performance compared to other smart home platforms (I’ve tried them all), so I continue using it happily.

Hardware Reliability

Vote: 5/5

Software Quality

Vote: 5/5

Developer Relations

Vote: 3/5

Based on what I heard from developers over the past few months, Apple really dropped the ball in terms of providing indie app makers with dev units of the Vision Pro. The very people who are going to carry this new platform for the time being given the absence of bigger names were the ones who couldn’t test their apps on actual hardware. That seems wrong and shortsighted.

Social Impact

Vote: 5/5

Other Comments

As we close the book on 2023 and look forward to 2024, a big question looms over Apple: are they really “late” to AI, or were they waiting to release a more useful application of AI with LLM-powered iOS features that are going to benefit hundreds of millions of people in ways that go beyond texting with a chatbot? I want to believe that Apple’s rumored rethinking of iOS 18 around artificial intelligence will see Shortcuts take a prominent role and allow users to control their devices and apps in ways that aren’t possible today. iOS updates have been pretty iterative and unsurprising for the past few years, and iOS 17 was no exception. That’s not a bad thing (interactive widgets are great!), but I’m ready for something new and different.

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